Health Literacy: Get Smart
August 24th 2012 · 0 Comments
By Steven Kussin, M.D.
Let’s continue our post on health literacy. Just last week, a study (http://www.springerlink.com/content/l107q2472772117r/) showed that medical education materials seen by patients in offices and on the internet are written at levels not achieved by most Americans. Most of us read at or below an 8th grade level. Nearly 9 out of 10 adults have difficulty using the everyday health information that is routinely available in our health care facilities, retail outlets, media, and communities, (http://www.health.gov/communication/hlactionplan/). The majority of reading material is then inaccessible to the majority of our population. “Depending on how you define it, nearly half the U.S. population has poor health literacy skills,” (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/248647.php).
Now, I know you are thinking to yourself, “Hey, I’m reading this article; this isn’t my problem.” Maybe not; but skills in health literacy are different than general literacy. For example, think about tribes hidden deep in the dark tropical rainforest of Brazil. There you will meet a primitive peoples known as the Envira Community. Just ‘found’ by ‘civilization’, each of its members is more able to act independently on health issues than you (or me); (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/1226050/Pictures-of-last-remaining-lost-tribes-called-Envira-found-in-area-of-Brazilian-rainforest-Tribesman-painted-orange.html#ixzz246N52N2B).
And remember, you have children and parents who are the least health literate. They have problems unique to their ages, are the most likely to both be hospitalized, and then injured during their stays. It’s your role to protect.
Is There a Doctor in the House?
Sure, but don’t expect too much from them. When it comes to the time, money and space that’s needed for a complete discussion of what you are signing up for, most are not rising to the occasion. For many, even the will to perform this role is lacking. When basic medical care is increasingly being handed over to nonphysicians and employed hospital doctors, then you know that teaching, supporting and discussing your issues is low on their list. Most want to, but today’s (and especially tomorrow’s) health care delivery is making this job less likely than ever. It’s good to remember my mantra, “In the health care system, it’s best to view yourself as being utterly on your own”.
Your job in light of this is to make it clear to the doctor that you need her/him to slow down and make her/his thoughts understandable. “Hey, doc, I love ‘ya but I don’t understand a word you said. This stuff is important…right? So, let’s make it clear.” After you’ve complemented your doctor (I love ‘ya) you can pretty much then say anything you want.
It’s also your job to keep away from a laundry list of complaints. The visit will be no longer if you have 2 problems or 20, so keep the list small. That allows you to have time to understand the information or to demand clarification when you don’t. When doctors put their hand on the door knob, they may seem to be in the room but, for your purposes, they’ve already left.
ASK ME THREE
The National Patient Safety Foundation has a download called, “Ask Me Three,” (http://www.scriptyourfuture.org/hcp/download/worksheet/Ask%20Me%203%20-%20Tool%20for%20Patient%20Engagement%20.pdf). There, you will find the most basic tools to start an inquiry regarding your care. And if 3 questions seems too basic, how about 10?
The Ten Questions You Should Know (http://www.ahrq.gov/questions/):
A simple question can help you feel better, let you take better care of yourself, or save your life. The questions below can get you started.
1. What is the test for?
2. How many times have you done this procedure?
3. When will I get the results?
4. Why do I need this treatment?
5. Are there any alternatives?
6. What are the possible complications?
7. Which hospital is best for my needs?
8. How do you spell the name of that drug?
9. Are there any side effects?
10. Will this medicine interact with medicines that I’m already taking?
I will ask the 3 (or 10) questions.
I will bring a friend or family member to help me at my doctor visit.
I will make a list of my health concerns to tell my doctor.
I will bring all my medicines when I visit my doctor.
I will ask my pharmacist for help when I have questions about my medicines.
Next week let’s find some resources that are easy to read, listen to and view. Face it, it’s a complex world out there and “In the health care system, it’s best to view yourself as being utterly on your own”.